Sagrantino di Montefalco Grand CrÃ¹ ClassÃ¨ Utopia?
By Filippo Bartolotta
Not for now.
The panel of expert called to report about other Classification systems seemed pretty skeptical about it, to put it mildly.
Daniele Cernilli from Gambero Rosso was moderating the debate opened by Prof Zanfi from the University of Florence: DOC were born to protect and value important areas like Bordeaux or Champagne, but when applied to unknown ones:…no results!
Also famous estates made an area famous but it is not true for the opposite.
In other words, more room should be given to the market and trade aspects of wine. After all, says Zanfi, wine is the first and still existing brand product in the world, with Haut Brion in 1666.
With this intro Zanfi passes the word onto the other speakers, with the unerstaning that Sagrantino di Montefalco has all the numbers to be considered for a new Classification experiment.
Sure enough some new ways to communicate Italian wines have to be found.
Mr. Ricci Curbastro, President of the Federation of Italian DOC, said thatÂ with our â€œroughlyâ€ 360 DOC(stating an exact number is impossible as a new Doc flourishs every day!) often built only to overshadow others is difficult to understand our system.
From here though to see an Italian wine embracing the 1855 classification system is another matter,
Prof. Duburdieu was the most clear and passionate about the impossibility to achieve any long term results:Â the political classifications, those done just to make a small wine area famous, are not followed by the consumers; the famous older ones are good for few, too elite oriented and if a wine estate goes up in ranking is fine, but if it goes down they will take the issue to court and the court will grant them their status.
A lot of people thought heâ€™s been just to negative about the Sagrantino Classification project, but I thought he has been fair and honest about it.
Before getting to this no-way-end though he gave a very passionate, articulate and inspiring speech about making a vocated wine area a famous and wanted one.
I wished a lot of Italian wine makers were there as as simple as Duburdieuâ€™s words might have sound to some of the professional in the room, they were nonetheless pragmatical and to the point.
The world is full of cheap wines made in areas where is hot and dry, where irrigation is allowed and labour cheap. Sweetening, oak chips, other industrial techniques, standardization and the harsh competitiveness force areas where is tough to grow the vineÂ -i.e. CotÃ© Rotie-to make wines with higher value.
And value comes from the interaction of four type of people with high expectations:Â producers, consumers, merchants, critics.
But we have to keep in mind that wine is the consumerâ€™s child. In every age consumers shaped up the parameters of value in wine: during the Romans for examples Falerno was the most important wine of that era because the Patrizi (noble families) were going on holiday to the Naples area.
Todayâ€™s modern parameters are shaped up by Asia and these are:
1) Image: The image has to be in line with the times we are living and in line with consumers expectation;
2) Price: the price is the reflection of the image and vice-versa and above all expensive wines become more expensive whether cheap ones get always cheaper. A wine high value is attractive and difficult to imitate;
3) Typical: one must be able to recognize the character of a given area in all the wines of the area, but the wines have to be instinctively good -if one has to explain to people why is good, is like explaining some one a joke- and complex or people get bored.
Aging Potential: this is the secret for Price&Value and is the essence of typicity
So the wines coming from difficult areas can become famous and develop in time a terroir element in overtaking the physical handicap of that area. For instance Bordeaux has got too much rain, but the gravel-clay-limestone soil drains the water and 15.000 Km2 of leaves surface in the vineyard make water evaporate: this made Bordeaux wines recognizable and with character.
When all this has to go into a sensible classification system were the best can come forward and other not though it is not possible to make people agree on it.
The 1855 classification in Bordeaux was done by the Merchants and it was never touched again; Les Graves by the Public institutions in â€˜53-â€™59 and never touched again; the St.Emilion started in â€™59 (also taking into account also real estate value) touched in the following years till 2006 and now is halted in court;
similar situation with the CrÃ¹ Bourgeois begun in 1923, then 2003 and now is in court in Brussels.
So Sagrantino beware what you wish for!
Thierry Dessauve, from la La Review de Grand Vin de France was a little more optimistic.
I met Dessauve with Duburdieu in Bordeaux last April when the three of us were holding some Tuscan wine tasting at VinexpÃ².
Thierry comes out as a very calm person with a big passion for Italian wines.
When I have asked him if this was a Sagrantino Utopia he said:Â well it might be but we need Utopia to dream and think forward.
This might sound like the word of someone who only like to speculate, but Mr. Dessauve and his colleague Bettane had the guts to take a star off from Mouton in their personal classification:Â the day after the world was talking about it!
If the 1855 werenâ€™t there our statement would have not been so powerful. So classification can help the media catalysis and the world will talk more about the area; also lower end wineries will try to reach higher standards. Tough judging standards are needed to be successful, but this means also for a wine area to accept leaders and stars!
So that can already be a problem, although the worst one is the risk of elite mood and immobilism.
So if Sagrantino wants to go ahead here are Dessauveâ€™s guidelines:
Classifications must be modifiable;
Special small production CuvÃ¨e are not to be judge, but the only the wine that contributes at least for 50% of the total estate production
Terroir must be traceable or scandals will arise
The judges opinion canâ€™t be taken to court
wines should be tasted young, then on release, then old bottles
tasters should be brokers, journalists, regional experts, consumers
So punters be ready to join us in the black toothed lot, in the lovely world of tannic young wines:)!!
I am very intrigued by the idea to develop a new wine classification system which could help the wine lovers, but the job isnâ€™t an easy one, above all in Italy: can you imagine to have producers agreeing on the fact that their wine estate is less valuable then their neighbor’s?
Agronomy Professor Attilio Scienza, knows that isnâ€™t possible.
He worked in Franciacorta and other areas to create a proper classification system starting from the soil:quality is under our feet!
He showed us the results of a very thorough work which would have shown the producers certain areas being more suitable for longer aging, other for spiciness, or persistence or floral character. Apparently very few in Franciacorta were happy to see these results published and so the Appellation remained untouched.
The final harsh candy to the Sagrantino Grand Cru Utopia was gien by Mr Raimondi from Ice showing how Montefalco has been expanding sales during expansions and contracting more dramatically during recessions showing lack of business sharpness for many of the estates in Montefalco.
By now is 1400 and everyone seemed pretty hungry.
Right after lunch I had time for a couple of hours tasting in Montefalco with its wonderful 22Â°C. A lot of good wines were missing, but here is my top five of what came out better after tasting 40 ish wines.
This was not a Sagrantino yet: a 2007 vintage. This is a vintage to watch pretty much all over Italy. I had recently some barrel samples of Barolo 2007 in Langa and it is just outstanding.
Davis Romanelli is a humble young wine maker with producing very clean and fresh wines.
His Sagrantino â€™07 was extremely pure with a lot of red berry crush, tamed tannins and a little vanilla in the finish. Would have to taste it again when bottled.
Cantina Fratelli Pardi
Sagrantino 2005. A very fresh and smooth style with a lot of cherries and spices.
I was intrigued a lot though by Albertoâ€™s Passito: juicy, lengthy and savoury with a lot of sweet pulp. Very easy to drink.
Colle del Saraceno. Az Agraria Francesco Botti
This 2005 Sagrantino was packed with a lot of sweet old school style fruit. Very leathery, earthy with mediterranean herbs.
Sagrantino 2006Â Tobacco, prunes and a leafy/earthy touch and yet pretty elegant though. Tannins are quite tight with a fresh/mineral mouth-fill. Needs time.
Perticaia Az. Agraria di Guido Guardigli
This Sagrantino 2005 has a great balance, with firm and yet supple tannins and enough sweet fruit to melt on the palate. Pretty clean, spicy and floral.
Scacciadiavoli Az. Agraria
Sagrantino 2005. This was one of my favorite of the day with the right fruit and sweet silky tannic balance, intensity, juiciness and gun flint minerality.
Also the red of this winery is pretty juicy too.
PS: Sorry about the pictures, I’ll get them uploaded soon…